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Learning About Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary arteries and plaque in an artery

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is a condition that occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Plaque is a fatty substance made of cholesterol, calcium, and other substances in the blood. This process is called hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis.

What happens when you have coronary artery disease?

  • Narrowed arteries cause poor blood flow. This can lead to angina symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort. If blood flow is completely blocked, you could have a heart attack.
  • You can slow and reduce the risk of future problems by making changes in your lifestyle. These include quitting smoking and eating heart-healthy foods.
  • Treatment, along with changes in your lifestyle, can help you live a longer and healthier life.

How can you prevent coronary artery disease?

  • Do not smoke. It may be the best thing you can do to prevent coronary artery disease. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Be active. Try to do moderate to vigorous activity at least 2½ hours a week. You may want to walk or try other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less food that contains saturated and trans fats. Limit alcohol, sodium, and sweets.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Manage other health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

How is coronary artery disease treated?

  • Your doctor will suggest that you make lifestyle changes. For example, your doctor may ask you to eat healthy foods, quit smoking, lose extra weight, and be more active.
  • You will take medicines that help prevent a heart attack.
  • Your doctor may suggest a procedure to open narrowed or blocked arteries. This is called angioplasty. Or your doctor may suggest using healthy blood vessels to create detours around narrowed or blocked arteries. This is called bypass surgery.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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